KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s political landscape continues to shift after Sarawak’s ruling parties abandoned Barisan Nasional (BN) on Tuesday, whittling down the coalition to just four components.
Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the latest departures are an ominous sign for the country’s future, asserting that the crumbling coalition had maintained national unity and harmony among the different races and religions.
“If parties in Sabah and Sarawak go on their own, the future of Malaysians is at risk.
“There is no party like BN that unites the relationship among those in the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak,” he told Malay Mail.
The former minister did not elaborate on the risk beyond emphasising that BN is the only coalition that knows how to keep east Malaysian politics and the interests of its many communities intact.
MCA publicity chief Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker expressed similar apprehension for the future of national politics and governance.
He compared the withdrawal of the four Sarawak parties from BN and their immediate formation of a new alliance called Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) that is friendly to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government to recycling history.
He was scathing of the current PH coalition, noting that its national chairman and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad used to be from Umno, the BN lynchpin.
“It will be ‘Umno Baru’ under the name of PPBM as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and PPBM continue to pick up the remnants of BN,” he told Malay Mail, referring to the PH component Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
In a not-so-surprising announcement on Tuesday, Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Abang Johari Openg announced that his Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) were quitting Umno.
Collectively, the four Sarawak parties won 19 of 31 parliamentary seats in the state under the BN banner in the May 9 general election.
PBB had the second largest share of parliamentary seats in BN after Umno, which won 54, while MIC won two, MCA one, and Gerakan none in the last general election.
Abang Johari said GPS will cooperate and collaborate with the PH federal government on national interest issues and on the state’s rights and interests, based on the Federal Constitution and the Federation of Malaysia agreement.
But Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s Jeniri Amir disagrees with the two BN leaders.
The political scientist said the four Sarawak parties’ departure from BN was a “pragmatic decision” for their political survival.
“The BN brand is just not sellable anymore. Its image is toxic,” he said.
But Jeniri said GPS will have to change its strategies and political philosophy if it wanted to move forward in tandem with the PH coalition.
“The changes cannot be cosmetic. They must be people-centric and understand grassroots aspirations,” he said.
He urged GPS to serve as a check and balance to the new PH federal government and pursue what they feel is right for the people in Sarawak.
“Leaving BN gives them independence, meaning they now have the freedom to pursue what is best for the state, like Sarawak rights, for example,” he said.